Wednesday, October 10, 2012
A Conservative superstar
He's famously "incorrect" and spontaneous but lots of Brits seem to see that as a breath of fresh air. Despite his often unkempt appearance he was recently named as the most respected man in Britain -- and he got a rockstar reception at the annual conference of the Conservative party
Boris Johnson last night launched a crowd-pleasing demand for a return to grammar schools. The London Mayor sought to boost his standing with the Tory faithful by announcing his ‘strong belief in competitive education’ and selective admissions.
It is the first time in more than a decade that a Conservative heavyweight has advocated a return to selection. Mr Johnson, who does not control the capital’s schools, again hinted at his prime ministerial ambitions by saying he was not able to shape party policy in education ‘yet’.
He was given a rock star reception at the Birmingham conference.
A crowd chanting ‘Boris, Boris, Boris’ gathered at New Street station when he arrived by train and he faced a scrum of delegates and media at the conference hotel.
At a rally in his honour attended by around 1,000 grassroots Tories, Mr Johnson said: ‘I’m a strong believer in competitive education. What was the Olympics? It was a pageant of competition. We should be allowing children to compete academically.
‘I personally have no objections to selective admissions at some stage.’
He said ‘some people object’ to the 11 plus, which divides pupils at that age, but he said it should be possible to select at later ages. And in a clear hint that he wants a wider national role, Mr Johnson concluded: ‘As far as party policy is concerned I’m not in a position to do this – yet.’
He also said he would continue to speak out in favour of a new hub airport, an idea the Coalition has punted into the long grass.
His provocative intervention on education may not please David Cameron, who decided against reopening the grammar school debate back in 2007.
But not everyone has been swept up in Boris-mania. Veteran minister Ken Clarke today said Mr Johnson had to grow up. 'If he really wants to be a prime minister for serious reasons and not just getting his picture in the paper more often, he really does have to settle down and demonstrate he can seriously deliver on some complicated subjects,' he told a meeting hosted by Channel 4 on the fringe of the conference.
He added it would be 'disastrous' if Mr Johnson could not get the 'fashionable' speculation under control.
Health minister Anna Soubry also played down the idea that the public was gripped by Borismania: 'Not one person in my constituency ever has said anything to me about Boris.'
But the Boris Johnson circus still threatened to overshadow the main keynote speech today from Chancellor George Osborne.
Mr Johnson refused to say if Mr Cameron was a better Prime Minister than he would be, insisting the claim was ‘unverifiable’.
And the London Mayor used his newspaper column to claim the government had left the 'struggling middle' feeling 'utterly ignored.
Last night he addressed hundreds of supporters at a rally organised by the ConservativeHome website under the triumphal banner 'Re-elected and Olympotastic'.
He was careful to praise Mr Cameron, and said he was one of the first Tory MPs to back him as party leader.
The London Mayor said the Conservative party had to remain squarely on the centre ground and claim back the One Nation mantra from Ed Miliband.
But he refused to rule out publicly challenging policy drawn up by the coalition. Mr Johnson said: ’Of course I am going to fight what I think might be ill-conceived Lib Dem plans for a mansion tax when I read about it.
'Of course I am I going to continue to lobby for a long overdue solution to our aviation capacity problems.
'No-one, as a result of that, should have any cause to doubt my admiration of David Cameron. 'He, George Osborne and the government are doing exactly what is needed to clean up the country and the mess Labour left.'
The success of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games on his watch has boosted Mr Johnson's popularity just as Mr Cameron's has waned.
Mr Johnson joked: 'I sometimes think after the great success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is we need more things like it. What's next? The Politicians Olympics.'
'Jeremy Hunt would be wanging the bell end. Me for the zip wire, Seb Coe for the 800m, William Hague for the judo. 'And Ed Miliband for the high jump.'
The remarkable scenes as Mr Johnson arrived in Birmingham contrast with the low key arrival of Mr Cameron at the conference centre on Saturday and confirm Mr Johnson's reputation as political box office winner.
Asked if he was in Birmingham to make trouble for Prime Minister, Mr Johnson replied: 'I'm here to support the party.' He ignored further questions as he was chased through the hotel.
Then today he will make a more traditional speech from the main conference stage.
Mr Cameron has been repeatedly forced to answer questions about the threat to his leadership posed by his old schoolfriend from Eton.
This week the PM said he 'was relaxed about having the blond haired mop sounding off from time to time' after Mr Johnson challenged him over Europe, aviation policy and tax.
On Sunday a a survey by pollsters Opinium for The Observer gave Mr Johnson him a net +30 rating among voters, compared to -21 for the Prime Minister.
Nine in ten Scots 'living off state's patronage'
Almost nine out of 10 Scottish households take more from the public purse than they contribute in taxes thanks to a “rotten system” of state patronage, the Tory party conference will hear on Monday.
Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, is to highlight official figures showing that only 283,080 households north of the border – 12 per cent of the total – pay more in tax than they receive in public services.
She will tell delegates that, because the public sector is seen as the key provider of everything from housing to employment, state spending now accounts for more than half Scotland’s wealth.
She will blame Alex Salmond, the SNP First Minister, and his Labour predecessors for nurturing a “corrosive sense of entitlement” among voters that has prevented her party making a comeback in Scotland.
Miss Davidson will argue this Left-wing “stranglehold” suits Labour and the SNP but has made it difficult for the Tories as so many voters are reliant on the public sector for their household income.
But the Nationalists described it as her “Mitt Romney moment”, in a reference to the Republican presidential candidate’s comments that 47 per cent of Americans pay no income tax and are dependent on the state.
According to the most recent figures, Scotland contributed 9.6 per cent of Britain’s tax take and accounted for 9.3 per cent of public spending.
Her strongly worded attack on state patronage follows David Cameron’s warning to the Scottish Tories last autumn that they had no excuse for their dismal election performances.
But Miss Davidson will tell the conference that Scotland’s “staggering” and “frightening” reliance on the public sector must be taken into account.
“The rotten system of patronage, which denies so many people real choices in their lives, has created a corrosive sense of entitlement which suits its political gang masters,” she will say.
Referring to her party’s dismal election record, the Scottish Conservative leader will conclude: “If the gang master state is the only provider people can see for their housing, education and employment, it’s no surprise those who seek to break the stranglehold find barriers in their way.”
Anyone who challenges the status quo is deemed an “enemy of the state”, she will argue, before claiming this is the real reason some political commentators have written off the Scottish Tories.
She will argue that Labour and the SNP still blame her party for problems that are their responsibility, pointing out that the former has been in control of some of Glasgow’s most deprived areas for decades.
Miss Davidson supported her claims by publishing figures from the Office for National Statistics, which showed the average Scottish household consumes £14,151 more in public services every year than it pays in tax.
Even the families in the middle income groups consume around £20,000 more in state spending than they contribute.
However, those in the top 10 per cent pay £17,205 more in tax than they receive in public services.
Kenny Gibson, a Nationalist MSP, described it as Miss Davidson’s “Mitt Romney moment”. He added: “At least Mitt Romney only insulted around half of Americans, while Ruth Davidson believes almost 90 per cent of Scots do not 'contribute’ to society.”
Miss Davidson will also tell English party colleagues that their support is required if the Unionist campaign is to win a decisive victory in the referendum on independence, something she will argue is necessary if the separatists are not to try to hold another vote soon.
Scotland was not always a nation of parasites
The Scots were a nation of strivers, until the state promoted a toxic dependency culture
In 1926 my father, aged 19, left an Aberdeenshire farm to be a rubber planter in Malaya. Apart from a year back home after enduring a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, he didn’t return to live in Scotland until he was almost 70. He was dismayed by what he found. It seemed to him that the Scots were no longer the hard-working, energetic and self-reliant people they had been in his youth. Instead they were given to self-pity and the belief that the world owed them a living and the state would provide.
There were exceptions, of course. The oil-rich north-east was not short of people starting their own businesses. But in general he believed that the Scots were sunk in a dependency culture, and this depressed and irritated him. He was out of sympathy with modern Scotland, though he was quite typical of his own era, when the Protestant work ethic ruled and the judgment “he’s done well for himself” was an expression of approval.
My father wouldn’t have been surprised by Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, asserting that only 12 per cent of Scottish households make a net contribution to the economy, and that Scotland is suffering from the “depression of dependency which has held our country back for so many years”. He would probably have approved. Admittedly, Miss Davidson’s eye-catching figure looks a bit dodgy. I think she is lumping in everything that people receive from public services, which, of course, includes education and the NHS. It depends how you measure these things, and the household figure might not be so very different in the rest of the UK.
Nevertheless, both my father and Miss Davidson have a point. Scotland was one of the places, along with the North of England and the English Midlands, where the Industrial Revolution took off. It was also at the same time a pioneer in devising means of providing capital for industry and business; it was a Scottish bank which invented the overdraft and Scots who invented investment trusts. A favourite text for Presbyterian sermons would be taken from the Parable of the Talents, where the servant who buries his talent in the ground is condemned while those who put their talents to work to create more wealth are approved and rewarded.
Scotland in the 19th century was a meritocratic country, a place where poor boys who applied themselves did well. The great civil engineer Thomas Telford was the son of a shepherd and apprenticed to a stonemason. A favourite school-prize book was Self-Help by Samuel Smiles, with its message that hard work and enterprise would be rewarded by success. By the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, Scotland was one of the industrial powerhouses of the world.
That last sentence is both true and misleading. The income was very unequally distributed. If the story of Victorian Glasgow, and indeed Scotland, is one of triumph, of an expanding economy, of wealth on a previously unimagined scale, it is also a story of degradation and misery, of the harsh exploitation of man by man. A Victorian reporter investigating social conditions in Glasgow could scarcely believe that “so large an amount of filth, crime, misery and disease existed in one spot in any civilised country”.
It was intolerable. Social action was taken. The state set in to repair the damage that free enterprise had done. The provision of housing, for instance, became a municipal responsibility. By the 1970s a higher proportion of Scots lived in publicly owned houses than in any country west of the Soviet bloc.
There was another side to the coin. The heavy industries that had created the wealth failed to meet foreign competition, and went into decline. The reliance on heavy industry meant that Scotland missed out on the new light industries that brought prosperity to the south of England. From having been aggressively enterprising, Scotland became defensive, engaged in damage limitation. The idea that industrial regeneration was impossible without state-provided finance and regulation took root. Individualism was suspect, communal action approved. Even the Scottish Tory Party never embraced Thatcherism, to my father’s contemptuous dismay, for he recognised in Mrs Thatcher’s message the self-reliant Protestant work ethic that had been instilled in him as a boy.
A good society seeks and achieves a balance between individual and social action. The excesses of the money markets show the dangers of rampant individualism and of the belief that greed is good; the somnolence of an unenterprising culture is the consequence of relying too heavily on the state and the public sector, and lands people and communities in the dependency trap. Ruth Davidson exaggerates, but she is right to draw attention to the absence of vigour and self-belief in much of Scotland, where the balance between individual and social action has been tilted away from the former.
Getting people off welfare is NOT uncaring - it's a moral duty and the only way to save us from fiscal suicide
There is no subject about which more lies are told than benefits and welfare. It is as though the truth is simply too terrible to state.
In the U.S. last month, Mitt Romney was widely said to have blown his chances of beating Barack Obama in next month’s presidential elections after the release of a video in which Romney said that 47 per cent of Americans pay no income tax and so would probably not vote for him anyway.
The response to this comment was not to address the catastrophic social problem Romney was highlighting, but to scorn him for mentioning it.
As so often, what was regarded as a ‘gaffe’ was simply a rare political truth. It is one we ignore at our peril.
The fact is that Britain, America and Western Europe as a whole are now permanently balanced on the edge of a financial precipice.
Yes, one reason is the disgraceful behaviour of parts of the financial sector, and another the collapse of the eurozone. But even if the 2008 banking and subsequent euro crises had not happened we would still be plummeting towards economic apocalypse.
The reason is as straightforward for the nation as a whole as it is for any household: we spend more money than we earn.
In national terms, that is because the number of people who make a net contribution to the economy keeps shrinking while the number taking more than they give keeps growing.
Chancellor George Osborne and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith should be applauded for trying to tackle this with their welfare reform programme.
They were right when they stated in yesterday’s Mail that they were bequeathed ‘the worst economic inheritance in living memory’ and right to announce a further £10 billion in welfare cuts.
But, as both men well know, they inherited not only an economic but a moral catastrophe as well.
Just how large a catastrophe was revealed yesterday when the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank released a report of devastating clarity. Its figures — based on those from the Office for National Statistics — show that more than half of the homes in the UK are now a burden on the state.
The cost of benefits payments and services received outweighs the taxes gained from at least 53 per cent of households.
In other words, more than half of the households in Britain make no net contribution to the state, because they receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes.
In Scotland the situation is even worse, with only 12 per cent of households — just over one in ten — paying more to the state than the state pays them.
Little wonder that George Osborne spoke up yesterday for the strivers in society, for ‘those who want to work hard and get on’, and who are fed up with being the providers in a nation where most people are takers.
This horrific situation has not crept up on us slowly. Rather, it exploded during the last Labour government’s time in office. Prior to its post-2001 debt-spree, fewer than 44 per cent of households made no net contribution to the state. That figure had increased by only 0.7 per cent since 1979.
But the Labour government had a cynical agenda. Voters who are reliant on the state are unlikely — as Mitt Romney pointed out in the U.S. — to vote Tory, or at least for people who would take those benefits away.
The Labour government deliberately built up a huge, Labour-voting client base by making thousands more households reliant on the state. And this — it must be remembered — did not happen during a recession. It was during a global boom, when private enterprise was thriving.
All logic should have dictated that fewer people, during such a period, should have been dependent on the state.
At the same time, tens of thousands of jobs were created. But they were not filled by British workers. The Labour government invited hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to come to this country and fill nearly all of those vacancies.
By importing a new working class, they made many among the traditional working class unemployed and state-dependent.
As a result, by keeping such people in a benefits limbo, the number of households which took more in benefits than they could pay in tax rocketed.
Today, the Labour Party claims that the solution to our economic woes is to further tax the minority who already pay their way — in order to sustain the ever-growing number of people who do not.
They seek to punish those who make a net contribution in order to reward those who do not. It hardly needs to be said that this is a recipe not only for fiscal, but national, suicide.
This week, the Conservative Party has its chance to grab the nation’s imagination and try to ensure there will not be a future Labour government that could plunge us ever further into a culture of dependency.
First, they must continue to remind voters of the economic mess left by their predecessors.
The Labour government not only failed to mend the roof while the sun shone, it spent taxpayers’ money bribing people not to notice the roof was caving in.
At a time when Ed Miliband and, more particularly, Ed Balls are intent on rewriting history on this score, it is essential the electorate is reminded of this point, time and again.
Second, the Conservatives must better explain their vision for the future of the welfare state. Iain Duncan Smith cannot do this alone. The party must make it clear that the Tories do believe in the welfare state — but not the one of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s creation.
More importantly still, they must explain the moral case for getting people off welfare and into work.
Across Western democracies, the Left has nearly bankrupted countries because it has succeeded in promoting a particular lie.
It is one based on emotion, and specifically on the idea that it is ‘uncaring’ to try to wean people off lives of welfare dependence.
In fact, the very opposite is true. While, of course, it is essential to protect the most vulnerable in society, it is positively immoral to condemn those capable of working and contributing to society to a life of dependence on the state.
Just as the Left forever talks about lives being ‘saved’ by welfare, the Conservatives must explain how millions of lives are wrecked by it, and many millions more are only half-lived.
Finally, the Conservatives must explain that this social tragedy cannot be remedied within the five-yearly electoral cycle.
Policies must be adopted that tackle the generational nature of the problem: spelling out how welfare-dependent parents are more likely to produce welfare-dependent children in a cycle that is as destructive as it is expensive.
What the last Labour government did was wicked. It borrowed money for handouts to bribe the electorate. And the grotesque amount of debt it amassed in doing so will hang over generations to come.
Unless we now act firmly and decisively, more than half of the households in this country will remain enslaved to welfare dependency, and lumber those not yet born with the debts to pay for it.
The success or otherwise of the Tories in spelling out that message in the coming days will decide more than which party comes to office in 2015.
It will determine what kind of long-term future — if any — we have as a country.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.